It’s that time of year again! The tree is trimmed, the stockings are hung by the chimney with care and a dreaded inversion has rolled into the area, trapping pollution and making the air heavy and hard to breathe.

Every year we are hit with these inversions, yet every year we seem to be surprised and unprepared when our air moves from healthy to moderate for the first time. This year, thanks to a beautiful snow-covered Thanksgiving, our first major inversion hit us this week.

When you heard the snow was coming, you likely made sure you had a snow shovel. But were you as ready to take action when the inversion set up after the storm moved out? Well, whether you had a list of actions and were checking it twice or not, it is never too late to play a part in reducing the effects of our inversions.

The first line of defense is understanding what an inversion is. Many of our valleys are surrounded by mountains. During the winter, a layer of warmer air acts as a lid over this mountain bowl, trapping the cooler air below. And just as the cold air can’t escape, neither can the pollution.

We can’t control the inversion, but we can control the emissions we release into the air beneath this lid. This becomes increasingly important, as the amount of pollution in our air doubles every day during periods of inversion.

The Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) believes that in our efforts to clear the air there are no perfect answers, but there are practical solutions. Today is the day to identify some practical steps you, your family, and your business can try to help reduce those emissions and mitigate the effects of the inversion.

Take a moment and think about your every-day habits.

  • When you drop off or pick up your kids at school, do you idle your vehicle to stay warm, talk on the phone or listen to the end of a song or podcast? According to the EPA, idling for two minutes burns the same amount of gas as running your car for a mile. If you think it is too cold to turn off your car, a practical solution for keeping you warm is to wear a coat, hat and gloves. You can even keep a blanket in your car to bundle up.
  • At work could your business offer teleworking options? Earlier this year, Utah’s largest employer — the state — completed a pilot program on teleworking. In its pilot program, 136 employees teleworked for three, four or five days a week. During the seven-month program, state workers reduced thousands of pounds of emissions and increased their productivity 20%.
  • In your travel can you eliminate or reduce your cold starts by carpooling, trip-chaining, taking transit or skipping the trip all together? For example: Bring your lunch to work instead of running out and back.
  • During the day can you replace a trip with an adventure by jumping on a GREENbike or a scooter to get from meeting to meeting downtown.

As you consider what you can do, stay informed so your actions can have maximum impact. Download the UtahAir app from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality to track when inversions are setting up, and take action early.

While we all hope for a Bing Crosby White Christmas — both for the beautiful snow and the clean air it brings — we just can’t sit by the piano and sing the song, hoping for snow. We must find our own personal, practical solution. So, when you are writing your letter to Santa Claus this weekend, take a moment to make a list of things you will do for air quality. It will keep you on the nice list.

Thom Carter

Thom Carter is the executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR).